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Tourism: County marketing director departs, but leaves plan behind

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County has a new tourism marketing plan, but has lost its new marketing director.

Meredith Hart, who was hired in December through the Chamber of Commerce, left last week to take a job as marketing manager at Oceana Resorts in North Myrtle Beach. She is getting married and plans to move to North Myrtle Beach.

The chamber provides staff services for the county’s Tourism Management Commission, which is responsible for marketing. Hart was the first full-time marketing director. Since her hiring, the commission ended its contract with Rawle Murdy Associates, the Charleston-based ad agency that created and implemented past marketing plans.

The chamber plans to hire a new marketing director for the commission, but it is also in transition with Brian Tucker due to start work July 1 as its new president. Annette Medlin, who hired Hart, stepped down to start a consulting business. She is moving to Greenville.

Tucker is head of the chamber in North Augusta, where the focus is on business development, Medlin said. “Tourism is going to be a learning curve for him,” she said.

“Meredith was very apologetic,” said Helen Benso, who chairs the tourism commission. “None of this was on the horizon back in December.”

Benso hopes a new marketing director will be hired next month. In the meantime, Sally Hogan, the chamber’s tourism coordinator, will fill in.

“I am certain that the Tourism Management Commission is on the right track,” Hart said.

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Before she left at the end of last week, Hart presented the tourism commission with a marketing plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

It shows a 13 percent increase in spending, to $792,129, and calls for a 25 percent increase in traffic to the county’s tourism website. The site contains information for prospective visitors and links to accommodations providers.

The marketing efforts are funded by a tax on short-term accommodations.

Most of the advertising will be online, $501,000 vs. $52,478 for print. Another $23,290 will be spent on cable television spots.

The budget includes $50,000 for contingencies, which the commission will likely use to continue its partnership with the Waccamaw Golf Trail, a consortium of 12 area courses. All of the commission’s golf marketing is now done in partnership with the golf trail under the new plan, Hart said.

In hiring a marketing director, the commission and County Council hoped to reduce the amount it spent on ad agency fees. There is $15,000 in the budget for any special projects, which Rawle Murdy has agreed to take on, but the ads will be placed in-house so the county will be spared the cost of commission charges.

With the projected increase in the marketing budget, administration fees paid to the chamber will drop from 16 percent of the budget to 14 percent.

“It’s a good plan, it really is,” Benso said.

The commission made only one change before approving it last week.

Hart’s proposal called for spending $21,000 in July, $50,000 in August and $61,000 in September.

“Who are we targeting?” commission member Lou Lachicotte asked.

Hart said it was aimed at the leisure market and couples.

Lachicotte said she didn’t think the results would justify the costs. “Everybody’s rates are higher in the summer, so it drives more money to the county” to try to bring more people in July, she said.

Benso agreed and the commission reversed the allocations for the three months.

Ad spending will drop off in November through January and build up again from February through May.

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